Pubdate: Tue,  7 Jun 2005
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2005 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Howard Mintz, Mercury News
Note: The decision is on line in various formats here and as a 79 
page .pdf file here
Action: Suggested Actions in Response to the Raich Decision
Bookmark: (Angel Raich)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Leaving scant room for further legal challenges from medicinal
marijuana advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday concluded that
federal drug laws continue to trump the efforts of California and
other states to permit the use of pot for sick and dying patients.

The 6-3 decision means federal law enforcement officials retain the
power to prosecute medicinal marijuana patients like Angel McClary
Raich, the Oakland woman at the center of the Supreme Court fight.

Legal experts do not expect a widespread crackdown on patients and
providers who operate on a small scale and can prove they are using
the drug for medicinal purposes. But patients and cooperatives that
provide the drug with a doctor's prescription run a risk of a knock on
the door from federal drug agents who have been more aggressive in
recent years, including in the Bay Area.

Monday's decision is the second time in four years that the Supreme
Court turned away the arguments of medicinal marijuana patients who
say the federal government is interfering with state laws such as
California's Proposition 215, overwhelmingly passed by voters in 1996.

Federal agents weren't rushing to make arrests after Monday's ruling.
But the Supreme Court has left an uncertain landscape for medicinal
marijuana supporters. The decision does not invalidate medicinal
marijuana laws in 10 states, but leaves tens of thousands of patients
relying on them vulnerable to federal prosecution.

Remote Chances

There also are still court challenges remaining under one untapped
legal theory, including a case involving a Santa Cruz pot cooperative.
But having suffered two losses already, legal experts consider the
chances of cannabis backers eventually prevailing in the Supreme Court

So most experts believe the Supreme Court's ruling makes Congress the
only hope of legalizing pot for patients with illnesses ranging from
glaucoma to cancer and AIDS.

Raich acknowledged the need to shift the debate to Congress, saying
she will testify later this month in support of legislation that would
keep federal prosecutors from charging patients and their providers.

"Even though we lost, it doesn't mean the battle is over," said the
39-year-old Raich, a mother of two teenagers who suffers from various
ailments that prompt her to use marijuana throughout the day. "I
still have some breath in my body."

Raich said she will ignore the threat of arrest because she maintains
she needs cannabis to survive. San Francisco U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan,
whose office enforces drug laws from Monterey to the Oregon border,
referred questions to the Justice Department. Justice officials said
they were pleased the decision "reinforced the scope of federal drug
laws," but declined to elaborate on what would happen next.

Focal Point

Northern California has been a focal point in the standoff between the
federal government and state medicinal pot laws. The Clinton
administration went to court in 1998 to shut down pot clubs that had
been operating in the region, leading to the first Supreme Court case.
Various cooperatives have continued to thrive, particularly in San
Francisco, where local officials have recently struggled with ways to
regulate dozens that have opened.

Raich and her husband, Robert, a lawyer who represented her in the
case, were also involved in the 2001 case in which the Supreme Court
ruled against an Oakland cannabis club. In that case, the high court
rejected the argument that there is an exception in federal drug laws
for a "medical necessity" defense.

Raich, along with Diane Monson, a Butte County woman whose home was
raided by DEA agents in 2002, brought a new case under a different
legal theory -- that federal drug laws couldn't be applied if the
medicinal marijuana isn't sold or transported across state lines. The
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the two patients in 2003,
but that ruling was overturned by Monday's decision.

The high court sided with the Bush administration's argument that
Congress has the authority to regulate the drug trade, regardless of
state laws designed to carve an exception for medicinal marijuana.

The Supreme Court majority, in a decision written by Justice John Paul
Stevens, essentially invited Congress to solve the continuing conflict
between federal drug laws and state laws like Proposition 215.
"Perhaps even more important than these legal avenues is the
democratic process, in which the voices of voters allied with these
respondents may one day be heard in the halls of Congress," the court

Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor --
who have both battled cancer -- and Clarence Thomas dissented, arguing
that negating state medicinal marijuana laws was an improper use of
federal power. Thomas, a fierce backer of states' rights, wrote that
"this overreaching stifles an express choice by some states,
concerned for the lives and liberties of their people, to regulate
medicinal marijuana differently."

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who intervened on behalf of
Raich and Monson, called on Bush and Congress to reform federal drug
laws, saying that "taking medicine on the recommendation of a doctor
should not be a crime."

Lawyers Hopeful

Lawyers for medicinal marijuana patients remain hopeful they can still
press forward in the courts. In a case involving Santa Cruz's Wo/Men's
Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which was raided by drug agents in
2002, lawyers argue that federal powers are outweighed by a patient's
constitutional right to medical treatment that alleviates pain. The
Supreme Court specifically chose not to address the identical due
process claim in Raich's case.

Legal experts, however, say the Supreme Court may have spoken the last
word on medicinal marijuana.

"I think it's probably done," said Santa Clara University law
Professor Bradley Joondeph, a former O'Connor law clerk. "I see very
little likelihood they'll prevail on the due process claim."

Valerie Corral, WAMM's co-founder, said she'll keep providing
marijuana for her 170-plus members, despite the long odds in the
courts and the prospect of more federal raids. "We need to keep
doing what we're doing," she said Monday.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake